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Audi's new MMI and Virtual Cockpit

The need to be/feel connected at all times can be viewed as a plague on society: texting while having a conversation; answering phone calls at the dinner table; responding to emails while reading your kids a bedtime story; it all might seem a little harsh and extreme, but it’s reality.

Then again, this “connection” has broadened our social outlets, has opened many doors of opportunity we might have never had, and has created a world in which timely decisions can be executed and put into action.

The need to be/feel connected while driving is another conundrum in itself. Many millions of dollars and human hours have been spent creating multimedia interfaces that allow your vehicle to link up with your mobile device.

Then there’s the question of distracted driving. How do engineers and designers create a system that allows you to focus on driving while selecting your favourite song? Or add a destination into the nav system without taking your eyes off the road?

Audi’s new MMI (Multi-Media Interface) and virtual cockpit are the German automaker’s answer to simplifying the ability to stay connected while keeping your eyes connected to the road.

Audi’s new MMI and Virtual Cockpit
Photo: Alexandra Straub

What is Virtual Cockpit?
The upcoming third generation of Audi TT coupés features two major brand innovations: the new MMI operating system and the Audi Virtual Cockpit -- also known as their digital instrument cluster.

In front of the driver is a 12.3” diagonal digital screen that gives you all the information you need about what’s going on.

For example, the rev counter is calculated at around 60 frames per second, so that the virtual needle moves easily and with extreme precision -- a new record for the car.

Your speed, rpms, music, and much more are projected in front of the driver. Gone is the screen on the centre stack.

What does the Virtual Cockpit show you?
There are two interfaces that can dominate the main area of the 12.3” screen. It’s done using the "View" button on the multifunction steering wheel.

In “infotainment” mode, the display is characterized by a central window and offers a large area for the navigation map or the telephone, radio, and audio menus. The tachometer and speedometer are displayed on the left and right as small round instruments.

Additionally, there’s the “Classic” view. That’s when the central window is smaller and the instruments -- with black scales, red pointers, and white numbers -- are around as big as today's analog displays.

The higher-end Audi TTS gives you a third option in the “sport” mode, whereupon the display is dominated by a central rev counter.

For the tech-savvy, this will certainly tickle your fancy. Audi says, “Working away in the background is a Tegra chip 30 from the Tegra 3-series provided by Audi's partner Nvidia. Audi is the first automotive manufacturer in the world to use the fast graphics processor. With a clock frequency of over 1 GHz, the quad-core chip, which works with a special 3D-graphics program, is capable of executing 8 billion operations per second.”

Audi’s new MMI and Virtual Cockpit
Photo: Alexandra Straub

How does it all work?
Through the new MMI. I dubbed it the “central nervous system attached to tech heaven.”

The terminal on the centre tunnel console, and its menu structure, were completely redesigned. What’s even cooler, it now responds to commands that you can write by hand.

Let me explain.

Say you want to search for a song on your playlist or a radio station or a restaurant in town. Select the function you want (i.e., the music function), and start handwriting on the circular dial. If you’re like me and have terrible handwriting skills, just try a little harder to print clearly.

According to Audi, “The function usually answers questions after a few letters have been entered and takes the location of the car into account. To search for a restaurant, the driver only needs to enter the name of the restaurant and the first letters of the city -- the results will then appear in a list covering the whole of Europe (North America when it comes out) including addresses. Searching for songs, albums, and radio stations follows a similar route.

Furthermore, the system now also responds and handles multi-finger gestures. This means the driver can scroll through lists using two fingers or zoom in on the map, as if they were using a smartphone.

Where did the climate controls go?
Those are located directly on the air vents themselves. Ingenious. Heat things up or cool them down with at twist of the wrist. Not to mention, turn the heated seats on from there, too.

Audi’s new MMI and Virtual Cockpit
Photo: Alexandra Straub

The verdict
Super kool. However, it does take some time to get used to it. Yes, it’s intuitive but there is some finesse involved. I could play on it for hours!

For those who will be purchasing new Audi TT next year when it comes out, take some time to not only get used to the car, but the technological wizardry. Chances are, it’ll help keep you both connected and safe.